NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 21, 2009

In a proposal to be introduced next month to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the city's mayor, Gavin Newsom, wants to add 33 cents to the cost of a pack of cigarettes, to offset the estimated $10.7 million the city spends annually removing discarded butts from gutters, drainpipes and sidewalks.  The added cost, Newsom hopes, will dampen smokers' urge to light up.

Officials say the municipal fee would be the first in the country to take aim specifically at cigarette butts, particularly filters, which are not biodegradable.  But the idea is expected to run into fierce opposition from tobacco companies, says the New York Times.

However, San Francisco has already proved to be tough on smokers:

  • In 2008, the city imposed a ban on the sale of tobacco at drugstores, a restriction that is being challenged in state and federal courts.
  • Cigarette butts became a target after San Francisco's annual "litter audit" found that cigarette detritus made up a quarter of all the trash in the city's public spaces.
  • With the city spending some $44 million a year on litter cleanup -- and facing a $500 million deficit for the coming fiscal year -- a fee was born.

Even though litter-mitigation efforts aimed specifically at cigarettes has been proposed in legislatures in a couple of states (though never enacted), this type of city-level approach is new.

Source: Jesse McKinley, "Cost of Cigarette Litter May Fall on San Francisco's Smokers," New York Times, May 19, 2009.

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